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Designing a content operating model for the next phase of GOV.UK

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One of the objectives on our roadmap this year is to review the content operating model for GOV.UK. Work on this is now well underway, and we’re ready to share more detail on what, why and how.

What we’re doing

We’re thoroughly re-examining the question of how GDS and departments should best work together across organisational boundaries to design, maintain and continually improve service-oriented content that meets users' needs.

The project will touch on all aspects - such as governance, organisation design, capability, and workflow (both process and product design) - relating to creating and maintaining content of any kind on GOV.UK.

GDS content design leadership will remain central to any new model, but we think we can be smarter about how best to apply that and about how we use (and encourage) content design capability across government to get the best outcome for users.

Departments and agencies will be closely involved in shaping and influencing the proposed model with us, with a view to early adopter departments and agencies beginning to migrate to it from April 2017.

Why the GOV.UK operating model needs to change

In building GOV.UK, GDS, departments and agencies collaborated on a rapid review of government's stock of content, deleting pages nobody needed and moving the rest to the new single site.

GDS took ownership of the most commonly needed 3,300 or so pages and rewrote them to be more user focused, and worked with departments and their agencies to move their roughly 200,000 specialist and corporate pages into the GOV.UK publishing system. Together we did a lot to understand users’ needs and join information up as we moved it, but now we have everything in one place it’s clear just how much remains to be done.

The content is now co-located, but it’s not yet coherent and the stock remains too large. Around 2,500 new pages are added per month across all the departments and agencies sharing the platform, while existing pages are seldom if ever updated.

We know from feedback and research that GOV.UK’s users often struggle to find what they need - a problem which can only be solved by reducing the volume of content overall, grouping it around users’ actual needs, transforming it so that it’s easy to understand and act on, and maintaining it as a user-centric service.

We’re working on big changes to site navigation, but it’s no silver bullet. GDS and departments will need to collaborate on a second, more thorough pass at reviewing the whole stock of government content, to group it into coherent services. We'll need to retire, categorise, consolidate and rewrite content to do so. And we'll have to establish different ways of working together across organisational boundaries to manage and iterate it on an ongoing basis.

To get ready for that, we first need to look at whether the operating model (established in 2011) is fit for purpose for this more joined-up and service-oriented approach to government content.

How we’re going about it

The project will be delivered in four phases:

1. Discovery

First we’re making sure we thoroughly understand what is and isn’t working with the current model both for end users and government colleagues. We’ll be gathering insights through qualitative research sessions with stakeholders (digital leaders, service managers, publishers and the GDS content team) and quantitative research of site and publishing tool data.

2. Definition

We’ll distill all the research into a clear, high-level summary of the problems with the current publishing model and the impact on end users and government. We’ll prioritise areas of focus that require addressing in a new model. We’ll bring this summary to relevant groups of government stakeholders for agreement.

3. Development

During this phase we’ll design a new publishing model that addresses the problems found in the research. We’ll review comparable publishing models of other sites and organisations, what we’ve learnt from government’s own past, and consider all suitable options. The design phase will identify the governance, workflow (both processes and product features) and capability needed both for content creation and ongoing maintenance. This phase will closely involve a number of departments and agencies to help us design - and possibly trial aspects of - the new model.

4. Delivery

The last phase will be to create a document outlining the proposed new publishing model with recommendations for how GDS and departments can begin working towards it from the 2017 to 2018 financial year. We hope to be working with early adopter departments/agencies on developing a roadmap for rollout from April 2017.


The ‘discovery’ phase is well underway and expected to be completed by the end of August, and we’ve begun work on defining the problems at the same time. We’ll share what we’ve found out so far in a blog post next week.

We anticipate completing the ‘discovery’ and ‘definition’ phase this autumn at which point we’ll share progress with relevant groups before moving into the ‘development’ and ‘delivery’ phases in late 2016/early 2017.

We’re talking to a few departments and agencies now about their involvement in shaping this with us. If you’d like to be involved or hear more about this project and what it means please email us (Trisha and Neil).

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